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Aid for ailing grades

TIFFIN — Having credit is crucial.
As an adult, credit can be the deciding factor in a number of financial endeavors. As a student, credit determines whether you will advance to the next grade level, graduate, or be held back a year. In the past, students with less-than-satisfactory grades endured an arduous program known as summer school; long days suffering in the classroom while their more successful classmates enjoyed the summer.
Since January 2009, high school students in the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) district have had the opportunity to participate in a “Credit Recovery Program,” salvaging their grades and mastering the educational material that eluded them the first time around.
Sarah Coleman is the coordinator of the program. The daughter of educators, she initially went to nursing school and moved into community health education. A position as an associate would end up changing her career and focus. Coleman has gone back to school and earned her teaching certificate. This fall, she will not only be in the APEX lab, but also in a regular classroom teaching health courses. For now though: “I’m up here (in the second floor lab) putting Band Aids on their grades.”
The recovery program started with one APEX Learning program and has since expanded with the addition of Education 2020 software. Both programs feature a learn-at-your-own-pace style that can be tailored to the needs of the individual student. Education 2020 offers the added flexibility of allowing a student with Internet access at home to work on portions of the program without having to come to the Tiffin campus. However, numerous safeguards have been put in place to deter and detect cheating. For example, while a student can complete his lessons at home, he must report to the school for all quizzes and tests. While personal electronic devices are allowed in the lab, they are kept in plain sight at all times and frequently monitored. No “phone a friend” allowed in Coleman’s lab.
“They know how to work around technology loopholes,” Coleman said. “My job is to close them.”
Before a student begins the program, an orientation meeting is held for the student, a parent or guardian, and Coleman sit down and review expectations, procedures, and determine what program or programs are needed.
“It’s very obvious to them that they have to do the work.” Coleman makes weekly reports on progress– or the lack thereof– to the parents. “When I say to them, ‘Your child has done X,’ they need to know what ‘X’ is.” She feels that frequent communication helps the parents to hold her accountable as well.
The lesson plans provide what Coleman calls “a second chance to master the material.” She meets regularly with other faculty members and, with their input, tailors the standard curriculum of the APEX and Education 2020 programs to each student’s requirements. Such meetings help her to ensure “what we use for recovery matches what they are teaching.”
Some students may only need to repeat a specific unit, others an entire semester. Mathematics and language arts are the two subject areas most in demand for credit recovery.
Education 2020 offers pre-recorded lectures, links to websites, guided online practice and links back to the lecture.
“I can really customize this,” she said. “No student should fail due to the program or content. (A lack of) effort is the only reason they should fail.”
Students thinking the program is just point, click and go play around on the computer have another thing coming.
“If you choose to come in here and work, we’ll get along awesome. If not, get out. Someone else needs the seat.”
Students also utilize the program as a way to maintain proficiency over the summer; others, such as incoming freshmen, use the program to prepare for the rigors of high school.
“It helps students to be more successful in the classroom, it’s a different way to get help and get it done.”
The program is offered throughout the school year for free. The summer session costs $100, is non-refundable, and often paid by the student as an additional motivator for success. Coleman noted some parents have put other “incentives” upon the summer students such as not being allowed to take driver’s education until the program is successfully completed.
Success is the bottom line and Coleman’s guiding principle.
“I love this job. I love these kids. I get to know them very well and I cry when they graduate.”
Coleman stresses that online learning is not meant to replace teachers. “It’s a different style of education. This does not replace teachers; it’s a supplement to teachers.”
Nineteen CCA students were enrolled for the summer session that runs until July 21 when all assignments, quizzes and tests must be completed. Thirty-five took advantage during the previous school year, and she anticipated a final tally close to 25 for the summer offering. Students range from incoming freshman to juniors entering their senior year and cross all socio-economic lines. Many are considered “at-risk,” which is a catch-all phrase for students who are, for whatever reason, not performing academically at the level they should be.
“I want them to be successful, to know how to access resources, but ultimately to be able to solve problems,” said Coleman.
CCA has a history of introducing and utilizing technology in the name of student success, and Coleman sees the Credit Recovery Program as one more option.
“We had a need and we filled it.”